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European refugee crisis explained

Migrants cross the border between Greece and Macedonia.
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Tens of thousands of refugees are fleeing the bloody Syrian civil war and making their way across to Europe, seeking safety in nations like Germany.

Harrowing photographs of the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Mediterranean beach galvanised public opinion and triggered a global response.

The New Daily takes a look at what’s driving these refugees, the scale of the problem and how the world is reacting.

• State govts to play refugee role
• Abbott pressured for ‘shameful’ response
• PM tinkers on refugees as Europe throws borders open

What is driving refugees into Europe?

Violence, terrorism and civil war in Syria and Iraq have displaced millions since the war began in 2011.

Syria is smaller than the state of Victoria with almost the same population as Australia – 22.5 million to 23 million respectively – which borders Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon.

The Syrian civil war is being fought between its long-serving government and those wanting to remove it from power. The Assad family has held office in Syria since 1971. First it was Hafez al-Assad, now it is Bashar al-Assad.

Its people are angry about failed promised surrounding economic and political reforms.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) then formed in 2011 to fight the government, but was joined by Jihadists and freedom fighters, which has resulted in a bloody mess and thousands of civilian deaths.

The death toll in the war is estimated to be more than 240,000.

The refugees travel long distances to reach the border, often on foot. When they reach the border they are often exhausted and dehydrated.

Some are suffering from gunshot wounds received when they attempted to escape or during the journey.

Refugees cross the border from Serbia into Hungary. Photo: Getty
Refugees cross the border from Serbia into Hungary. Photo: Getty

Where are they coming from and in what numbers are they crossing into Europe?

As many as 340,000 people have sought to cross European Union borders since January 2015, and a further 240,000 have been killed in Syria since 2011 when the conflict started.

According to The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), there are 12.2 million Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance inside the country.

During 2015, about 540,000 people have been displaced, adding to the 7.6 million already displaced.

According to Eurostat, in 2014, Syrians made up 128,000 of the total asylum applicants – followed by 47,000 from Eritrea, 43,000 from Afghanistan, 38,000 from Kosovo, 31,000 from Serbia, then Pakistan, Iraq and Nigeria.

Many of the family groups fleeing, especially those from Afghanistan, include pregnant women and new-borns.

After days of confrontation and choas Hungary unexpectedly opened its borders with Austria allowing thousands of migrants to leave the country and travel onto Germany. 
After days of confrontation and choas Hungary unexpectedly opened its borders with Austria allowing thousands of migrants to leave the country and travel onto Germany. Photo: Getty

How are they getting to Europe?

According to Frontex data, in 2014, most of the refugees came over the central Mediterranean, on boats from Libya and Tunisia.

But in 2015, there has been a shift in people coming over the eastern Mediterranean, at the land border between Greece and Turkey, or over the sea.

Greek Deputy Shipping Minister Nikos Zois said more than 230,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Greece by sea in 2015 – a huge rise from 17,500 during the same period in 2014.

Many are also coming from or moving through Serbia, heading north to the borders with Austria and Hungary.

In early September 2015, after days of confrontation and chaos, Hungary unexpectedly opened its borders with Austria allowing thousands of migrants to leave the country and travel onto Germany.

Migrant group of about 500 refugees walks on a road near Budaors, Hungary.
Migrant group of about 500 refugees walks on a road near Budaors, Hungary. Photo: Getty

How have European nations responded?

According to Eurostat, 662,000 people applied for asylum in the EU in 2014. This was almost 200,000 more than the year before, and double the number in 2011.

The European Commission (EC) in May proposed a temporary system of obligatory distribution of refugees for the 40,000 people who had arrived in Italy and Greece since April 15, a system based on four criteria – population, GDP, unemployment and previous efforts to take in foreigners – according to which it was concluded that Spain could accept 10.72 per cent of the total.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced that Britain would take refugees directly from the camps in countries bordering Syria – avoiding the need for them to put themselves in the hands of people traffickers. So far 216 Syrians have re-settled in Britain.

But Mr Cameron had been adamant Britain would not join a proposed EU scheme.

Austrian policemen are helping children and mothers to board a train in the Austrian village of Nickelsdorf.
Austrian policemen help children and mothers to board a train in the Austrian village of Nickelsdorf. Photo: Getty

How do the numbers compare to the Australian situation?

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said a larger percentage of Australia’s humanitarian intake will come from the Middle East, but the total won’t increase.

Last financial year Australia settled more than 4,400 people from Syria and Iraq with the overall refugee intake standing at 13,750.

That number will increase to 18,750 by 2018.

ALP leader Bill Shorten called for an increase of 10,000 to Australia’s humanitarian intake and said Mr Abbott’s offer was “simply not good enough”.

Meanwhile, Cabinet is expected to give formal approval for the RAAF to conduct air strikes in war-torn Syria on Tuesday.

Australia’s former ambassador to Syria told Fairfax Radio that the humanitarian crisis in the war-ravaged nation could continue for generations.

Bob Bowker, who was Australia’s ambassador to Syria from 2005-2008, said: “I’m afraid there’s going to be a continuing humanitarian disaster in and around Syria.”

Migrants wait at the transit zone of Eastern (Keleti) railway main station in Budapest.
Migrants wait at the transit zone of Eastern (Keleti) railway main station in Budapest. Photo: Getty

with AAP

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